Waiting Out the Wall
Many of you know that I am a prolific writer. I write daily, sometimes up to 10,000 words a day. I love writing and it loves me. Until, it doesn’t.
I’ve been writing for about six years. I wrote my first book Dead Awakenings at 150,000 words in 30 days. The next month I wrote another book, also at 150,000 words. The third month I wrote Reign of the Vampires at right around 120,000 words. It was amazing. Splendid. And I was on top of the world! I didn’t write any more books until two and a half years ago. In two and a half years I’ve written a dozen books and published ten of them so far. I was told volume was the name of the game. If I wanted to get my name out there I need to write and write and write some more. So I did.
Along the way I had a writer’s block. Nothing big, small ones. Cute little writer’s blocks that I want to name and put on my shelf. I’d take a week off and then be fine. I’d read a few tips here and there and bam! I was back in the game.
Until a month ago.
A month ago I had a major meltdown. A meltdown like none I’ve had in over eighteen years. It was bad. Really bad. And I finally asked myself. What the hell are you doing? Why are you doing all this? What is the goal? And that’s where it started. My first REAL Writer’s Block ever. A hairy ten foot spider of a writer’s block that I didn’t want to touch let alone put on a shelf and care for.
It was like being stranded in the middle of the ocean of words that wouldn’t come together and form beautiful prose anymore.
At first I remembered how comfortable I’d been just days before. Sailing on a cruise ship in this gigantic ocean of words. Partying with all my writer friends and chatting about my WIP, and characters, and putting beautiful words on pages. Only to wake up abandoned on a life raft with limited rations, not a soul in sight and words not only no longer in my mind, but no longer in the ocean that surrounded me either. Nothing. There was just… dark ominous water threatening to swallow me down.
So what did I do? I lay in the bottom of my boat till I hit shore and then I started reading articles about writer’s block and how to get rid of it. Try “What If” Questions. Try writing a character sheet. Move on to a different project. Write through it because the first draft will be crap anyway. But every single thing I read had a common theme: Keep Working.
Now I had friends. My wonderful writer friends whom I love and cherish and they said, “When I get blocked it’s because I deviate too much from my plot.” Well, that’s true, for them, but I’m not a heavy plotter. I can’t be. My characters freak out when I tell them what to do and then they throw a tantrum and stop talking to me. So, what’s a Plotzer type of girl to do when all the advice she’s being given makes her brain throb and the hamster on the wheel in her head pass out?
You stop. That’s right. You stop. Not an hour stop. Or a day stop. Or even a week stop. You take a full stop. A month. Two months. However long you and your body need. You don’t even try. Don’t open your word document and stare at it. Don’t read your Facebook feed full of what all your writer friends are working on. You don’t read books in your genre and analyze them. Don’t promote or market anything! You just stop. You pretend you aren’t an author. You do all those things that never get done because you write so much.
You do the laundry and cook real meals. You go to sleep early and sleep through the night. You go to the store or the mall and walk around and enjoy just being there. You take your kids to violin and parkour and fencing and dance and you don’t take your computer so you can write while you wait. You binge watch every show you haven’t seen in over a year. You talk to friends that aren’t writers and go to lunch with them to hear about normal people. You clean your house and organize the spare bedroom and take the time to be a regular person again.
Yes, it’s true that for the first few days your writer’s brain will fight this change. Tell you that you need to write. You have crap to get done. Ignore it. Drown it out with doing those other things that help you remember who you are. Within a week or so you’ll find that everything inside quiets down and you’ll start to breathe again. You might get an idea or two in this time. Jot them down but nothing more. Don’t write. Don’t plot. Just make a note so you have it for later.
Then, when you’re in those quiet moments, you think about what the heck started it all. Were you pressuring yourself to get it done? Were you pressuring yourself that it wasn’t good enough? Were you too focused on selling more than your friends? Were you upset that someone didn’t invite you to a party or that you got a 2 star review? Most likely you will find that what started it all was pressure. Stress will shut down your creativity faster than being run over by a truck. You can at least get some good sensory descriptions and plot ideas from being run over by a truck. But with stress, not so much.
Then when you’re ready, think about your characters a bit. Not a lot. Just a little. Think about where you left them and what they’re doing. Maybe pull out something you need to edit and edit it. Slow. No pressure to be amazing, just reliving it and making it better here and there. Pick up a book in genres you DO NOT write in. (That is key!!) For me it’s non-fiction. Read them. Learn from them. Have fun with them. Maybe write a blog post. Or an article for a newsletter. Try your had at a short story. Very short. Two thousand words or less. Again, the name of the game is No Pressure. Something light and fun just to see where it goes. Do a daily writing prompt and turn it into a thousand word flash fiction for your blog. No commitment. You are a free agent here!
And then when you think you’re ready to start writing again, to dive back into that monster of a novel you’re writing, Don’t. Don’t do it. You aren’t ready.
Take a few more days. Do more things. Go to a play or your son’s soccer game. Make cookies for your neighbors. And just take time to remember who you were before you started calling yourself an author. Let yourself be.
I know you’re asking, okay, so when do I start writing again? The answer is, when holding back will kill you. When that feeling that if you don’t get the screaming characters in your head to shut up that you might put an icepick through your temple. That’s when you write. When the need is so overwhelming that you can no longer hold back that sea of words that has finally come back to you and is ready to help you back onto your cruise ship. That’s when you begin again.
But what if you can’t wait it out? What if you’re on a deadline? Then what do you do? You take as much time as you can and then you start slowly. Do the small things above. Think of your characters in your book. Do character sheets and maybe go on Pinterest and look for inspiration. Make a board for your characters. Do a small writing prompt and pop your characters into it. It doesn’t have to be a scene you will use in your book, but it can be a scene you could use as promo or a freebie in your newsletter. Ultimately, if you are on a deadline you can’t wait forever and sometimes what you’ll need to do most after taking your break is forcing yourself to sit down and write again. After you’ve taken sufficient time out, you need to recommit and dedicate yourself to your writing again. Go back and read the last book in the series. Re-read the chapters you’ve already written. Remind yourself why you loved these characters so much.
But first, give yourself time to heal and to be. And when you are ready, go into it for the love of writing. The love of wanting to just write and create and have fun. For you. Not to get a contract or an agent. Not to fulfill a contract in place or to submit to an anthology. Not to make a million dollars.
Write because if you don’t, your characters will murder you in your sleep.
Rebekah R. Ganiere – Books with a Bite
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